2008 Olympics: Relentless record breaking
Host: Beijing, China
Medal table winner: China
Held between August 8th and 24th, the 2008 games saw the Olympics travel to the world’s most populated nation, China, for the very first time. It proved one of the most ambitious and expensive summer games in Olympic history. With groundbreaking facilities and scrupulously choreographed opening and closing ceremonies, Beijing put on an incredible show. A new standard was undoubtedly set.
China also had success in the sports themselves as they topped the medal table for the first time. The United States hadn’t missed out on top spot since the 1992 games, but came up short with 36 gold medals. The 2008 competition also saw Team GB make an incredible rise, dispelling recent strife to reach fourth in the standings. Afghanistan, Sudan, Mauritius, Tajikistan and Togo all won their first Olympic medals also.
Numerous records tumbled in Beijing. The games attracted a staggering total of 4.7 billion viewers worldwide across the two weeks. Furthermore, 43 world records and 132 Olympic records fell in China, beating the previous best of Helsinki ’52. In fact, only two Olympic bests survived the games unscathed in the swimming progamme.
Curiously, the equestrian competition was held in Hong Kong, a gargantuan 1,219 miles from Beijing. Consequently, it was only the third time in Olympic history that an event was held outside of the host nation. While the games were largely hailed as a success, China did face some criticism. The country’s treatment of Tibet proved a particular motive for human rights protests coinciding with the competition.
Sir Chris Hoy makes history
After decades of mediocrity in the Olympic games, Beijing marked a turning point for Team GB and Sir Chris Hoy spearheaded it. The Scot made history in China as he became the first British Olympian in a century to win three golds at an Olympiad. The first of which came in the Team Sprint where, alongside Jason Kenny and Jamie Staff, France were put to the sword. It proved a satisfying improvement on the silver he had garnered in Sydney.
The second podium-topping event came in the Keirin. Hoy narrowly held off Germany’s Maximilian Levy in a tight affair to grab individual gold. The Edinburgh-born star then completed his hat trick in ruthless fashion against fellow Brit Kenny. Three golds in as many days saw Hoy rise to one of the UK’s most decorated Olympians.
With Nicole Cooke, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Rebecca Romero, Ed Clancy, Paul Manning, Geraint Thomas and Victoria Pendleton all bagging gold also, it proved a vastly successful cycling programme for Britain.
Introducing Usain Bolt
Now the most recognisable athlete on the planet, Usain Bolt introduced himself to the world in Beijing. While a cameo in Athens may have been his official Olympic bow, 2008 saw Bolt send shockwaves round the world. Not only did the then 21-year-old secure three gold medals, but he set a new world record in all three of them. A new sprinting icon was born.
The 100m came first and the Jamaican had only competed in this event for a matter of six months. Coupled with his weak starts and tall build, the odds were against Bolt. However, in a blistering race that saw him break the world record, albeit slowing down with 20m to go, the doubters were silenced. 9.69 seconds flashed on the board despite him having thrown his arms out in celebration before the line. Talk about dominance.
Bolt then doubled up in the 200m as he broke Michael Johnson’s 12-year world record into a head wind. While there was no slowing down this time, the Jamaican looked at ease nonetheless and defeated Shaun Crawford by nearly a second. The 4x100m relay then proved the cherry on the cake as Bolt ran an electric top bend before handing off to Asafa Powell who executed the perfect anchor. 37.10 seconds saw a third world record take a tumble. Incredible stuff.
Eight out of eight
OK, so Sir Chris Hoy and Usain Bolt scooping three golds is impressive, but how about eight? US swimmer Michael Phelps embarked upon the seemingly impossible, attempting to win eight golds in eight events in eight days with eight world records. It proved a daring scheme to break Mark Spitz’s seven out of seven at Munich ’72. Many thought that record would never be beaten, they thought wrong.
Phelps kicked off the run in the 400m individual medley, one of his weakest events, before victory in the 4x100m freestyle relay by just 0.09 seconds. Rampant wins in the 200m freestyle and 200m butterfly then brought Phelps to the halfway point in comfortable fashion. Number five was then secured in the 4x200m freestyle relay with the Baltimore-born star executing a blistering first leg swim.
The 200m individual medley was bread and butter for the American as he cruised to victory and a sixth gold. However, the 100m butterfly proved a jaw-droppingly close affair as Phelps touched the wall just 0.01 seconds before Milorad Cavic. After that close call however, the US romped to first in the 4x100m medley relay. The feat was secured and did I mention? All eight were world records. Mark Spitz who?
Emotional win for Matthias Steiner
A big part of what makes the Olympics special is the spirit of the games. In 2008, German weightlifter Matthias Steiner proved this was just the case. The Austrian-born athlete had suffered tragedy a year before with his wife tragically dying in a car accident. Steiner strongly considered quitting weightlifting as a result, but later changed his mind to try and win gold in memory of his wife.
The German looked in trouble after the snatch category however with a failure at 207kg seeing him slip to silver. Nonetheless he persevered and in the clean & jerk lifted a heroic 258kg to edge past Evgeny Chigishev by a single kilogram. Steiner produced an ecstatic celebration upon clinching the lift and kissed a photograph of his wife on the podium. There have been few such heartwarming golds.
Rebecca Adlington rose to fame in Beijing as she bagged herself gold in the 800m and 400m freestyles for Britain. The former proved particularly inspiring as it saw her break the oldest world record in swimming which had stood for 20 years under the ownership of Janet Evans.
There was a curious incident in the men’s 400m final as David Neville secured himself a bronze medal in unorthodox fashion. The American edged out Chris Brown by just 0.04 seconds via a dramatic fish dive over the line. It not only scooped him a medal but went a long way to stealing LaShawn Merritt’s thunder.
Lionel Messi added Olympic gold to his repertoire in 2008 as Argentina went all the way. A lone goal from Angel di Maria in the gold medal match saw the South Americans edge out 1996 winners Nigeria.
History was made in the diving calendar as Australia’s Matthew Mitcham defeated home favourite Luxin Zhou in record breaking fashion. One of his 10m dives was awarded 9.0, 9.5, 9.5, 10, 10, 10 and 10 points by the seven judges. It proved the highest scoring single dive in Olympic history.
YJA Senior Correspondent